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Artist Françoise Gilot, muse and partner to Picasso, dies aged 101

Gilot at work
Gilot at work Copyright Sygma via Getty Images
Copyright Sygma via Getty Images
By Saskia O'Donoghue
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The prolific and talented painter was overshadowed by her famous partner despite her personal skill.

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Françoise Gilot, a prolific painter who was perhaps best known for her romantic relationship with Pablo Picasso, has died at the age of 101.

Her daughter, Aurelia Engel, confirmed Gilot had passed away after suffering from lung and heart ailments, telling the New York Times she had died in a Manhattan hospital.

Gilot’s 1964 memoir of her high profile relationship with the much older Spanish artist Picasso - entitled ‘Life with Picasso’ - became an international bestseller, despite his attempts to try to block its publication.

Born in 1921 in Neuilly-sur-Seine on the outskirts of Paris, Gilot was a committed painter by the age of 21, when she met Picasso, some 40 years her senior, at a restaurant.

Despite a ten year long relationship which produced two children, Claude and Paloma, their union was not always a happy one. The pair never married and Gilot was frequently harassed by Picasso's legal wife, former Russian ballet dancer Olga Khokhlova, as well as suffering physical abuse at the hands of Pablo Picasso.

AP1953
Gilot with Picasso at Cannes Film Festival in 1953AP1953

After deciding to leave him, she recalled the artist telling her: “You imagine people will be interested in you? They won’t ever, really, just for yourself. Even if you think people like you, it will only be a kind of curiosity they will have about a person whose life has touched mine so intimately”.

Despite the cruel jibes and being pigeonholed as a socialite due to the relationship, Gilot managed to rebuild her career - even after Picasso attempted to pressure galleries into not showing her work.

AP/AP1950
Gilot and Picasso in 1950 with their children Claude, standing, and PalomaAP/AP1950

Her artistic talent spoke for itself and, even today, her work is still on display in museums across the globe, including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York as well as the Centre Pompidou in Paris.

She had impressive commercial success too. In 2021, a 1965 portrait of her daughter ‘Paloma à la Guitare’ sold for $1.3 million (approximately €1,215m) at auction.

AP1965
The late Françoise Gilot poses with her work at an exhibition in Milan, 1965AP1965

Her memoir of her relationship with Picasso was reissued by the New York Review Book Classics in 2019 and, at the time, infuriated the Spanish artist so intensely that he decided to permanently cut off contact with Gilot and their two children.

The 1996 film Surviving Picasso, starring Anthony Hopkins as Picasso and Natascha McElhone as Gilot, was inspired by the bestselling book. Gilot was also portrayed by Clémence Poésy in the 2018 season of anthology series 'Genius', which focused on the life and art of Pablo Picasso.

Gilot married twice following her split with Picasso. She wed the artist Luc Simon in 1955 and the pair had daughter Aurelia before divorcing in 1962.

1970 AP
Happy days - Gilot on her wedding day to Dr. Jonas Salk in 19701970 AP

Eight years later, in 1970, she married Jonas Salk, an American medical researcher behind one of the first successful polio vaccines. They remained married for 25 years, splitting their time between La Jolla in California and her studio in the south of France, while she acted as chairwoman of the fine arts department at the University of Southern California.

Following Salk’s death in 1995, she relocated to Manhattan, where she underwent a career renaissance, painting prolifically and overseeing exhibitions thanks to her years of experience.

Images Press/Getty Images
Gilot at home c.1982 in La Jolla, CaliforniaImages Press/Getty Images

When she was 96 years old, in 2018, Gilot showed no signs of slowing down, publishing a book of sketches made during her frequent travels to India, Senegal and Venice in the 1970s and early ‘80s.

She is survived by her daughter Aurelia Engel and her two children with Picasso; Claude is the director of the Picasso Administration and Paloma is a designer, best known for her collaborations with luxury jewellery house Tiffany & Co.

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